Will Larson


Staff Engineer

by Will Larson

Leadership Beyond the Management Track


  • This book is all about defining the job role behind a Staff Engineer: What are you supposed to focus on? How do you best contribute?
  • This book is not well, but not terribly written, but it is the only known book in existence on this topic, and it does a decent job giving a little clarity to a vague notion.


Required reading for any track. Engineers need to know what to aspire to, Managers need to know how to work with Staff Engineers.

Important concepts

  • There are 4 archetypes of Staff Engineer:
    • Tech Lead: Obsesses of the approach and execution of a group of Engineers, scopes difficult tasks, removes roadblocks for the group to succeed. Most common type, and this is the one we will push you to strive for here.
    • Architect: Oversees and designs a project or area of technology, guiding, mentoring, and unblocking, but empowering others to succeed in it. Usually only present in large companies.
    • Solver: Deployed on mission-critical, complex tasks to ensure success. These typically only exist in individually-based, not team-oriented companies.
    • Right Hand: A proxy for a more senior leader, represents his/her interests when he/she cannot be present. Typically only in very large companies.


The first half of the book is a summary of findings, the second half of the book is the full text of the interviews conducted. If that sounds backwards, it feels that way as you are reading it. Quotes from the summary are verbatim taken from the full text. Feel free to start in the middle, then when you get to the end, go to the beginning.